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The thought of Punjab brings to mind the swaying wheat fields, the farmers dancing bhangra, the merry truck drivers, the valiant soldiers of the Sikh and Punjab regiment and of course how can one forget the delicious food varying from sarson da saag to tandoori chicken. Tandoor is the earthen oven which binds the people together as it is also known as sanjha choolha meaning common cooking place.

Punjab is called the “Bread basket of the nation” because it gives India the maximum agricultural output regardless the total amount of area it covers. It produces wheat that can feed the whole of India and contributes around 2% of the world’s wheat produce. 

Punjabi food is wholesome and full of rustic flavour. The custom of cooking in community ovens or tandoors (clay ovens) prevails in rural pockets till today. The cuisine is characterised by a profusion of dairy products in the form of malai (home made cream), paneer (cottage cheese) and dahi (yogurt). The dals are a speciality of this type of cuisine, made of whole pulses like black gram, green gram and bengal gram. They are cooked on slow fire, often simmered for hours till they turn creamy and then flavoured with spices and rounded off with malai for that rich finish.

The food is simply delicious whether it is sarson da saag and makai di roti or tandoori murg. The last mentioned dish is perhaps one of the most famous of all Indian dishes the world over, a dish whosoever tastes keeps asking for more. The most unique thing about cooking in a tandoor is the smoky flavour that the food gets making it tastier. Moreover it is a healthy way of cooking since minimum fat is required and the food generally gets cooked in its own juices thus retaining its natural flavours. Besides it is not only easy to digest, it is also very hygienic. In conclusion one can safely say that it is through tandoori cooking that Indian cuisine first got globally acknowledged.

Though tandoor cooking and tandoori chicken in particular is associated with this state, punjabi cuisine has numerous palate tickling vegetarian dishes to offer. Though, maybe not as elaborate and exotic as moghlai or avadhi dishes, they are wholesome and equally tasty and flavourful. The most famous vegetarian preparation of Punjab is, perhaps, sarson da saag accompanied by makai di roti. Besides this there is a variety to choose from like dahi bhalle, palak paneer, matar paneer, ma ki dal, rajma rasmissa, a variety of paranthas – stuffed or plain… Aloo parantha is another dish that this state is famous for. Eaten with aam da achaar it leaves you licking your fingers for more. Chole-bhature is another popular breakfast/snack dish.

A typical Punjabi household will consume a lot of milk and milk products. Dahi and lassi are favourites and as they have intestinal health-giving properties they play a significant role in the daily diet. And what about butter and ghee? They are the essence of Punjabi cuisine and the secret of the robust health of a typical Punjabi!

Typically, all meals will include milk and its products in the menu. Be it plain milk or any fruit milkshake or cold coffee, breakfast is incomplete without any of these drinks. If there are aloo paranthas without a dollop of fresh homemade butter, rest assured you have not come to a typical Punjabi home!

Come dinner-time and as it finishes, in come the bowls of either kheer, phirni, seviyan, fresh fruits with cream or even thick custard. During winter gajar halwa and sohan halwa are hot favourites. On festive occasion toshe and matthis are also made in Punjabi households. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.